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Why "Physical" in "Fast and Physical" is so important to the Falcons

This team wants grit. So much grit.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For Falcons fans, the phrase "fast and physical" has probably been heard at least ten thousand times since Dan Quinn arrived in Atlanta. From day one, it's been the direction he wanted to take the team in and his draft classes and free agent signings appear to back up that motto. That said, many fans have recently focused on the speed that many of our draftees have. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell all had top-tier measurements that show they can cover a lot of ground on the field. While that is important, it is only one aspect of what made them "Falcons" material.

In a recent radio interview, Head Coach Dan Quinn gave some insight into the importance of the "physical" part of the motto and why it's just as important as the "fast."

Scouting for toughness

During Dan Quinn's interview with local radio station 92.9 The Game, he intimated that along with the scores they give players for all the normal physical traits, they also score them on how "tough" they are. That toughness is determined by their play style (aggressive vs passive) along with how physically tough they are. Is this a player that looks to initiate contact or do they shy away from it? Is this a player that plays hard throughout a game, or do they begin slipping off towards the fourth quarter? These are just a handful of questions the scouts may ask, and it hints at what "toughness" really means to Quinn and his staff.

That may also explain the infatuation with Keanu Neal from early on in the process. This quote from his NFL draft profile speaks to the toughness explained above:

Explodes downhill in run support with blood in his eyes. Vicious hitter looking to bruise bones and set tones...Drives all the way through his contact with aggressive finishes...Plays with a sense of desperation and rarely fatigues.

This draft profile of Deion Jones also has some similar wording:

Brings pop behind his pads...Willing to step into hole and deliver a blow to pulling guards or iso ­blocks...Maintained focus and team-­first attitude...

It's clear that both Neal and Jones (and really, much of the remaining draft class) are willing tacklers, unafraid of contact or taking contact. Austin Hooper has shown he's willing to make the big play over the middle despite the threat of getting popped and even seventh rounder Devin Fuller has shown a willingness to go into traffic instead of avoiding it.

Coaching toughness

Why is this trait important though? Well, just as size and speed can't be taught, to a large extent "toughness" can't be taught either. Ask any coach and almost all of them will tell you that it is easier to get an aggressive player to "back off some" versus teaching a timid player to be more aggressive. That mental toughness - the willingness to hit and be hit - will often be the difference between a game changing tackle versus a missed one. Quinn's emphasis on "physical" isn't just about the the physical stature or size of players: it's about their mental toughness as much as anything. This desire to put together a squad that is mentally tough was emphasized just recently when the team brought in former Navy SEALs to talk to the team about resilience and mental toughness.

While the speed of the team appears to have improved already, it is quite possible the "physical" has as well. By drafting players that already possess a willingness to "get dirty" on the field, Dan Quinn is trying to build a roster of not just better athletes, but mentally strong ones. It's a strategy that makes sense - let's just hope it pays off on the field.